IT SUITS US TO SPREAD OUT SO AS NOT TO DIE OUT QUICKLY

The Founder, as Superior General, regularly held decision-making Oblate council meetings. The minutes of January 1845 start off with a long statement on the poverty of the Congregation, which had hardly any funds but spent large amounts to feed and clothe “some sixty young men.” These were the juniors at Lumières, the novices at L’Osier, and the scholastics at Marseilles. In spite of this enormous expense, it was decided to accept the ministry and administration of the shrine of Notre-Dame de Bon Secours in the Diocese of Viviers.

Eugene described this move to Father Courtès in Aix:

Things have gotten to such a point that yesterday in Council, we were just about to give up the valuable foundation at La Blachère. Especially Tempier argued strongly in favour of abandoning that project, not only because we lacked the men, but also because we do not have the money, and it is impossible for us to incur the expenses of a very costly construction.

I fought against his position which not only would prevent the Congregation from doing a good work that is in line with its Institute, but which would also deprive us at the same time of a valuable source from which we could hope for an increase in our members.

Experience has proven that wherever we have established ourselves, we have in a first period brought to our ranks a goodly number of excellent recruits; but soon these sources become exhausted and produce no more. Look at Aix, how many good candidates came from there? But for how many years now have there been no more? At Gap, the same situation occurred. Marseilles has given its share; but if we still get a few more there, it is the seminary that is bringing them to us. And so it suits us to spread out so as not to die out quickly.

Letter to Fr. Hippolyte Courtès in Aix en Provence, 4 January 1845, EO X n 864

Yvon Beaudoin comments in the footnote to this letter: ” It is interesting to note how Father Tempier, the procurator general, is concerned about bringing the Congregation into debt and consequently insists that we should not over-reach ourselves by accepting a place where housing needs to be built immediately. The Founder however shows that he has a wider view, more audacity and more zeal in allowing his sons to practise their ministry in a new region, despite the Congregation’s few resources in men and money.”

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THE FAMILY IS GROWING LITTLE BY LITTLE, AND THAT IS GOOD, FOR THE NEEDS ARE SO GREAT AND SO PRESSING FROM ALL SIDES

In France it is customary to exchange greetings at New Year. Eugene wrote to Father Courtès to express his good wishes.

So that things won’t happen to me today as they do every day, my dear Courtès, that I don’t have the time to take pen in hand, I am writing to you by the lamp light much before dawn. If I had not wished you a happy festive season, I would be even more put out for being late in wishing you a happy New Year; but you know that Mass on New Year’s Day is offered as a prayer – a wish for all those whom the Lord has given me.

Eugene then shares with him the good news of the growth of his Oblate family.

This year, I had the consolation of receiving the profession of one of our Irish lads, in the midst of twenty-two confrères. During the ceremony, the regimental band was playing beautiful tunes in my courtyard, which contributed to giving the celebration an unusual but very imposing solemnity. I think that at the same time at L’Osier they received the profession of Brother Coste; Brother Fabre’s profession will be held on February 17.

Thus the family is growing little by little, and that is good, for the needs are so great and so pressing from all sides.

Letter to Fr. Hippolyte Courtès in Aix en Provence, 4 January 1845, EO X n 864

The “Irish lad” was Louis Marie Keating, who would be one of the founders of the Oblate mission in Ceylon, in which he served as a missionary for 35 years.

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TAKE OUR NEW FOUNDATIONS IN AMERICA UNDER YOUR PROTECTION

In the previous entry we saw how Eugene had described the new missions in Canada to the Council of the Propagation of the Faith. His letter continues:

I feel, gentlemen, that I have sufficiently illustrated for you the needs of the Bytown foundation and its importance in the light of the various ministries carried out by the missionaries there, an importance which increases every day considering the position of this city at the very center of communications between Upper and Lower Canada, the United States, and the North of this part of America.

The renowned zeal which inspires you and associates you to any enterprise whose object is the propagation of the faith and the good of religion, the generosity with which you have granted abundant alms to various foundations opened in the United States and elsewhere by other missionary societies, and the goodness with which you have accepted our requests in favor of the Cornwall mission entrusted to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in England, leads me to hope and assures me that you will be so kind as to take our new foundations in America under your protection and include them among the missions supported by the admirable Missionary Society you administer with such wisdom and devotion.

Letter to the Council of the Propagation of the Faith, 23 December 1844, EO V n 90

From the very beginning, without financial support, the Oblate missions to the most abandoned would be impossible. Today we recall with gratitude the countless benefactors who support and make possible our mission of evangelization

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ASSIGNED TO VISIT THESE VARIOUS LUMBER CAMPS TO PROVIDE THE COMFORT OF THEIR MINISTRY

In the search for funds to maintain the foreign missions in Canada, Eugene wrote to the Propagation of the Faith describing the latest missionary outreach of the Oblates.

I wish to avail myself of this occasion to tell you something about the importance and the needs of the foundation recently opened by our Congregation at Bytown in the diocese of Kingston, as well as the one to be opened next spring in the Hudson Bay district. Besides the service rendered to the Catholics entrusted to their care in the city itself and to those of the other parishes where they go to preach missions, the fathers in the Bytown community have also been instructed to bring spiritual assistance to the men working in the lumber camps.

There are thousands of these lumberjacks in small groups spread throughout the forest where they spend the summer season felling trees. Up to now bereft of the comfort of religion, they have abandoned themselves to all kinds of excesses and became the scourges of the parishes where they returned after their work.

In order to prevent such a great evil, the bishop of the Diocese wanted the Missionaries of Bytown to be assigned to visit these various lumber camps to provide the comfort of their ministry to all those gathered there.

Letter to the Council of the Propagation of the Faith, 23 December 1844, EO V n 90

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I REMINDED HIM ABOUT THE GOOD DISPOSITIONS OF THE KING, AND I REQUESTED HIM TO TAKE A LOOK AT THIS MISERABLE BUILDING

“From the time of his appointment as Bishop of Marseilles in 1837, he began to talk about the necessity of a new cathedral worthy of a great city. In the course of his trip to Paris in November and December of 1837 to swear allegiance to the king, as bishop of Marseilles, he told the king and the minister of Public Worship that he would need substantial help from the state to carry out this project. He requested three million francs from the ministry. The ministry responded by saying this was too much. The bishop replied that a city like Marseilles which brought in thirty two million francs from its customs fees alone richly deserved three million francs to build a monument which, in the eyes of everyone, it could not do without. (See Diary, December 16, 1837) From 1837 to 1860, Bishop de Mazenod wrote over one hundred letters to the mayor, to the prefect and to the ministers. The prefect of Bouches-des-Rhônes was in favour of the project. Hesitant at first, the mayor and the municipal council gave their consent on the condition that they would not have to contribute anything. In 1844, the bishop began to lose hope.” (See: https://www.omiworld.org/lemma/marseilles-cathedral/)

When one of the younger sons of the French King passed through Marseilles, Bishop Eugene invited him to Mass at the Cathedral. He described their arrival in his Diary and how he used the occasion to stress the need for a new and large cathedral

I received their Royal Highnesses at the door of the church, attired in my cappa magna, accompanied by the chapter and the Major Seminary. After having offered holy water, I addressed this discourse to them:

            “In coming today into this temple to fulfill here at the feet of the holy altars a duty of religion, your Royal Highnesses will be struck at seeing that the first church of a large city is so unworthy of its purpose.

A few years earlier the eldest son of the King had come to Marseilles and had responded to Eugene’s plea for this project.

” He consented to make himself, as soon as possible, as he himself told us, the advocate of a cause which had as its object the procurement from the government of the construction of a new cathedral. Unequivocal evidence attests how much he became attached to this idea, which his name still patronizes, and which I dare recommend to the fraternal piety which grieves so many defunct qualities and so many vanished hopes.

And addressing the princess:

And you, Madame, whose faith, which in your Royal Highness calls to mind the daughter of blessed Louis, manifests itself by acts of edification which our populace enjoys honoring, consent also to take interest in the very legitimate desires of this Christian populace. It would give itself over to a wonderful hope, if your first steps on the soil of France were marked by such a patronage, and it would continuingly thereafter happily applaud the memory of your arrival among us, if the new church were one day raised within our walls as a sacred monument of your union with the prince your husband, and of your holy destinies in the bosom of the royal family.”

            The prince responded, in a few words, that he would not forget anything for complying with my wishes. He asked me for the paper on which was written my discourse, etc. I then reminded him about the good dispositions of the king, and I requested him to take a look at this miserable building

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 8 December 1844, EO XXI

Eugene’s insistence eventually did pay off and he was able to begin the building project.

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WE NEED TO HAVE SOME COURAGE AND CONFIDENCE IN GOD WHO SHOWS US THE ROAD AND WILL NOT ABANDON US WHEN WE ACT IN HIS NAME AND FOR HIS GLORY

Reviewing the situation in Canada with the new Oblate superior, Eugene is torn between all the invitations coming to the Oblates to minister in different dioceses of Canada – so great was the need for priests – and the small number of Oblates available. The abandoned territory of Red River had just been offered to them, opening up a ministry in the area of Western Canada up to Hudson Bay and many indigenous groups.

You can well believe my heart bleeds when I hear you speak of all the good that is in prospect and which you cannot undertake because of lack of personnel…

We are a very small family which has exhausted itself by pitching its tents in America. Everything suffers in Europe and I am accused daily of having been too generous in making sacrifices so great in number and quality. I am not inclined to repent of this although I feel our impoverishment strongly.

Despite the lack of personnel, Eugene sees this invitation to minister to the “most abandoned” as providential:

Providence will come to our help where you are…  I’ll go further: judging the importance of the mission proposed by the Bishop of Juliopolis and by what you tell me about the representations of this Prelate, and mindful of the obligations we have towards him, my decision is that you ought to undertake it with the means you have in your power. It will not be a proper establishment at first and instead of three persons, you will only send him two for part of the year if you cannot do otherwise, but you cannot risk the great setback that you fear of seeing this mission taken away from you and of losing the opportunity, as you argue very well and rightly, of evangelizing the whole of North America by serving in the diocese of Quebec, Montreal, Kingston and Red River.

Believing that this invitation was from God, Eugene expressed his constant experience that God always showed the way ahead to the missionaries.

We need to have some courage and confidence in God who shows us the road and will not abandon us when we act in his name and for his glory. Everywhere we have established ourselves we have made a feeble start. The time has not yet come to do otherwise. So, I repeat, without hesitation, respond to the wish of the Bishop of Juliopolis and begin this work even with only two Oblates while awaiting others from the goodness of God.

Letter to Fr Eugene Guigues in Canada, 5 December 1844, EO I n 50

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IT WILL ENABLE THEM TO DO WONDERS EVERYWHERE THEY ARE SENT.

The writings of Eugene de Mazenod that I present each day reflect the many tasks he was involved in: Superior General of the Oblates in France and Canada, the one responsible for the personnel, mission, and community life of all the Oblates and at the same time, bishop of the second largest diocese of France.

Separated from his missionaries in Canada by the Atlantic Ocean, he was particularly concerned to maintain the God-given spirit and mission of the Oblates whom God had led him to found. Faithfulness to this charism would ensure missionary success. It is clear in this letter to Father Guigues, the new superior of the Canada mission.

Nothing you might tell me could bring me more pleasure than the witness you have rendered to the good dispositions and virtues of all our Fathers. I pray God that he keep them in this attitude of mind that you have recognized in them. It will enable them to do wonders everywhere they are sent.

The first superior had been Fr Honorat, who had done his best to establish the new mission, but who had suffered from many difficulties and obstacles.

I expected nothing less of Father Honorat than the good example he is giving. No one has ever rendered more justice than I to his religious virtues. The burden that I was obliged to impose upon him was too heavy for his shoulders. Now he is relieved. In his new post, he will do well. It should be the same with all the others.

Letter to Fr Eugene Guigues in Canada, 5 December 1844, EO I n 50

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THOSE GOOD PRIESTS ARE FULFILLING THEIR MINISTRY WORTHILY AND ARE DOING A GREAT DEAL OF GOOD

The Oblates had taken responsibility for the ministry of the Marian shrine of Notre Dame de Lumières (Our Lady of the Lights) in 1837. As a shrine it was a center of permanent mission from which the Oblates went to the surorunding villages to preach parish missions.

You know that I acquired the former property of the Carmelites at N.D. de Lumières in order to station at the shrine some devoted priests who work and serve in the Avignon diocese. Each day I was more pleased to have made this sacrifice since everyone assures me – and you have told me the same thing yourself – that those good priests are fulfilling their ministry worthily and are doing a great deal of good at Lumières where they live, and  in the parishes to which they are invited.

The Mayor of the town was an anti-Catholic Freemason and was determined to cause difficulties for the missionaries. Eugene thus wrote to an influential Catholic of the area to ask him to intervene.

But now the Mayor of Goult is troubling me regarding the possession of my property by bringing up claims contrary to what I believe to be my rights. Here I have consulted distinguished legal advisers who recognized my titles to be legitimate and are sure that, if the Mayor persists in his claims, he would lose his suit. However, I must admit, my dear Marquis, that whatever my convictions might be on this matter, I feel I am extremely reluctant to stake the extreme measure of pleading my cause against the very commune where is located the residence of these kind priests who are peaceful by character as well as by vocation. Thus I confidently approach you to use your good standing with the Prefect and have him dissuade this troublesome Mayor from forcing me to defend my rights before the courts; to avoid this trouble, I would be on my part willing to make some sacrifices.

Letter to the Marquis de Cambis, 4 December 1844, EO XIII n 103

The good ministry of the Oblate community continues to this day in the shrine and surroundings.

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IT IS THEREFORE NECESSARY TO ENTRUST THIS WORK TO THE CARE OF GOD

The Oblates had been preaching a parish mission in a village of Provence and were experiencing hardships and lack of success. Eugene commented in his diary:

Letter from Fr. Courtès. He gives me the worst news about the mission of Bargemon. Never anything more hopeless. One ought to conclude from it that this poor Courtès is unfortunate on mission. Nevertheless, this is to lose courage a little quickly.

Despite the setback, Eugene recalls his experience that God produces results in every parish mission.

Which is the mission where one does not see those who appeared the most distant at the beginning return to God? One must not, therefore, appear beaten nor to be disposed to cede the field of battle… It is therefore necessary to hand over this work purely and simply to the care of God. Let us wait with patience and resignation.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 16 November 1844, EO XXI

When we are faced with difficulties, let us entrust ourselves simply to the care of God.

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THE GOOD LORD DID NOT GIVE YOU YOUR TALENTS FOR YOUR OWN USE ONLY

Father Hippolyte Courtès was one of the first Oblates and Eugene had much confidence in him and in his preaching abilities. For this reason, he sent some of the young Oblates to live in his community in Aix en Provence so as to benefit from his talents and experience.

Father Rey is part of your community. I recommend that you hold him to working at his desk; demand absolutely that he compose, that he write out his instructions, and that you be the one responsible for examining and correcting what he writes.

The Good Lord did not give you your talents for your own use only; but in calling you to the Congregation, he wished you to use these talents for the good of the whole family, and especially for those whom I place, while they are young, close to you so that they may be formed in your school…

I do not claim that you will finally make a great orator of Father Rey; others may have been more gifted and might have profited more from your help, but it is always important to have him produce all he can.

Letter to Fr Hippolyte Courtès, 5 November 1844, EO X n 861

We are reminded of the Gospel parable of the talents and of Paul’s image of the body with its many parts in I Corinthians 12: God gives us talents to be used for the benefit of others. In the case of each member of the Mazenodian Family, it is an invitation to a greater generosity in sharing our knowledge and love of the Savior in our daily lives.

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